WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency passed a mayhem milestone late last month — issuing a record number of presidential disaster declarations for any calendar year, with nearly two months to go.
President Barack Obama’s Oct. 26 determination that Puerto Rico needed federal aid after a tropical storm was the 76th major disaster declaration issued this year. Two more followed in the first week of November.
The previous high mark for major disaster declarations was 75, set in 2008 by President George W. Bush and in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
Nearly half of the presidential disaster declarations issued since 1953 came from the three most recent White House occupants — a trend many observers say has as much to do with government policy and politics as it does with more bad weather or even community vulnerability to a stormier climate.
FEMA and government weather scientists agree that 2010 has so far lacked signature disasters like a major hurricane or big outburst of tornadoes.
The bulk of the declarations resulted from epic snowstorms that hit the Mid-Atlantic states last winter and numerous severe storms that spawned tornadoes and flooding from Texas to Tennessee to Minnesota.
“The two biggest things about severe weather this year was that there were a lot of winter storms, with some brutal cold associated with them, and then during the spring and summer there were a lot of places that really got pounded by flooding, and those both tend to affect larger areas,” said Harold Brooks, a researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.
FEMA officials said many of the storms each impacted several states, resulting in separate declarations for each jurisdiction.